Timing is everything. Earlier this year the NTSB placed loss of control at the top of its “Top 10 Most Wanted” list for General Aviation in 2015. Ironically, Piper Aircraft just introduced the safest airplane they have ever produced – and likely destined to be one of the safest in General Aviation - by specifically and significantly diminishing the pilot's ability to lose control of it.
We know that unmanned aerial vehicles are reported to have amassed more than 3 million flight hours. And last year the U.S. Navy landed an unmanned prototype fighter on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It’s pretty clear airplanes no longer require a human to physically manipulate the controls. But Unmanned Flight is only possible with a very robust and sophisticated Flight Control System. Fortunately, those systems are slowly and surely making their way into General Aviation. The glass panels, traffic avoidance systems, and Vertical Profile Radars that we use every day all transitioned from military and scheduled carriers into General Aviation.
While they are not quite ready to take the pilot out of the airplane, Piper has clearly changed the game as the new M500 is the first pressurized, known-ice certified, radar-equipped airplane to utilize the new technology. For instance, if the pilot implements an excessive pitch or roll the airplane physically pushes back against it. If the pilot continues to be control challenged the autopilot self-engages, stabilizing the airplane. And that happens without the autopilot being engaged in the first place. It simply senses when you are headed out of control and politely takes over. If control is lost outright all anyone need do is push one clearly-identified button and the airplane recovers to straight and level and stays there until you tell it to do something else.
If the autopilot is already operating a series of benefits come along with it. If you get too slow the autopilot establishes a speed just above the stall warning and holds it. On a coupled approach the autopilot remains engaged and is capable of flying the Missed Approach, including any Hold. All you do is manage the power. Think of it as the aviation equivalent of a car that sets speed and following distance on the highway and then parks itself when you get downtown – you need only monitor the process instead of implement it.
More simplicity accrues to the M500’s pilot as management of the Pressurization System is now automated and digitized. Tell the airplane on startup what the elevation is for the airport of intended landing and fly the M500. That’s it.
Additionally, Piper has given the M500 the tools to be a genuine business airplane. When was the last time you made an affordable telephone call from your headset while at FL250? Or sent and received a text from the cockpit? The M500 arranges that for the pilot or any of the M500’s passengers without interfering with ATC communications. And it does that through a new 3D Audio Panel that, for example, puts ATC in one ear while you listen to the ATIS in the other. Plus, the crew and the passengers have multiple and easily accessible USB ports and electrical outlets in their respective portions of the cabin. The passengers even have a new remote control to change stations on the XM radio.
In a nutshell, you have to experience the M500 to believe it. So welcome to the 21st-century version of automated, all weather, 3D flight. If you’d like a peak at the new world just give us a call.